Book Review: 7 Myths About Singleness, by Sam Allberry
Sam Allberry, 7 Myths About Singleness. Crossway, 2019.
Despite a number of resources appearing in the last several years examining sexuality and gender from a biblical perspective, many Christians still operate with unbiblical assumptions about singleness and marriage. Without question, marriage and family are under attack in Western culture. Many Christian leaders and pastors rightly defend these institutions and should teach their people to honor them (Hebrews 13:4). Yet, sometimes leaders and preachers who have emphasized the glories and goodness of marriage have also unintentionally left single people wondering if they are second-class citizens in the kingdom God. Is there a place for singles to be recognized as effective and whole members of the church community? The answer is yes, but according to Sam Allberry, we first need to debunk some myths.
Seven Myths of Singleness identifies seven myths about singleness evangelicals commonly believe. As Allberry addresses these myths he repeatedly highlights Scripture’s emphases on the surprising blessings of singleness (the myths that singleness is too hard, requires a special calling, means no intimacy, means no family, hinders ministry, wastes your sexuality) and reminds readers of the hardships connected to it (the myth that singleness is easy).
But why has the church found it so difficult to uphold the goodness of both marriage and singleness? Allberry writes:
Throughout the history of the church, the pendulum has swung one way and then the other when it comes to whether marriage or singleness is most worthwhile or spiritual. Today there is little doubt which way it has swung: we have an enormous tendency to undervalue biblical singleness in the church and wider culture. So, much of the corrective involves showing how singleness isn’t as awful as we tend to think it is (124).
This biblical corrective is exactly what Allberry provides. Singleness, he argues, is not contrary to fruitfulness in ministry, intimacy in relationships, or the glory of the Gospel. Instead, singles can be of enormous benefit to the body of Christ, both theologically and practically.
As we learn from Ephesians 5, marriage serves as a glorious picture of the relationship between Christ and his church. But this doesn’t mean that gospel truth is consigned only to those who have a spouse. Allberry demonstrates that singleness serves as a glorious reminder that earthly marriage is not ultimate—our identity in Christ is ultimate (120). Single people offer a constant reminder that we are all waiting for the great wedding day when our Heavenly Bridegroom will receive the bride that he purchased. As Allberry states, “It is good for church members to see examples before them of gospel-focused singleness as well as gospel-focused marriage” (100).
Not only does singleness point to a future promise of fully realized union with Christ, it also highlights the gift of community that God has given us in the church. In the New Covenant, God’s people are made part of a spiritual family. In this family, single people are capable of bearing spiritual children through evangelism and discipling, and the church community also provides the family relationships for which God made us. When the church is operating as God intended, singles will bear much fruit, and the lonely will find a home (Ps. 68:6). This glorious picture of the church comes with a challenge: will our churches be the kind of family where single people feel welcomed and the lonely find community?
These theological principles of singleness are not just hypothetical for Allberry. Using himself as an example as well as the apostle Paul, he illustrates that singleness can allow for more freedom and flexibility to serve the church. For example, single members may be able to help someone in need at a moment’s notice, offer neutral perspective on family issues, or travel more easily for ministry.
In the final chapter, Allberry humbly opens up about some of the hardships of singleness. Although his description is not exhaustive, he allows the reader to enter some of the difficult and painful realities that singles endure. His transparency and honesty is commendable and instructive. As Proverbs 13:12 tells us, “A hope deferred makes the heart sick,” and many single people in our churches feel that their hope for marriage has been permanently deferred. By helping his readers understand the complexities of singleness, Alberry equips single people to feel less alone and married people to rejoice and mourn more graciously with their single brothers and sisters.
HOLDING THE BALANCE
As Allberry clearly states, his goal is to counter the wrong assumptions that have devalued singleness in the church by highlighting what singleness communicates about the gospel and the unique opportunities single people have to serve the church. He acknowledges from the beginning of the book that singleness lived for the glory of God is a commendable and even glorious calling. He also warns, however, that singleness lived for the pursuit of selfish ends is quite the opposite. In fact, my only quibble with the book is that I wish Allberry had developed this point further. Given our cultural climate which celebrates self-centeredness and autonomy, Allbery could have helped singles evaluate whether they are choosing singleness for the glory of God or for their own selfish pursuits.
THE GOODNESS OF GOD
Extolling the goodness of both marriage and singleness can be a tricky balancing act. But as Allberry shows, something even more profound stands behind both marriage and singleness:
When I started this project, my initial aim was to write about the goodness of singleness. . . . But through it all I have been increasingly preoccupied with something else—not the goodness of singleness but the goodness of God. The issue is not whether this path or that path is better, whether singleness or marriage would bring me more good. The issue is God and whether I will plunge myself into him, trust him every day (149).
Ultimately, our marital status is infinitely less important that the status of our souls. The trials of singleness run deep, as do the opportunities that are afforded by it. The same is true of marriage. But as each person leads the life that God has assigned to him (1 Cor. 7:17), let’s remember that our commonalities far surpass our differences. The greatest myth any of us could face is that the goodness of God will one day run dry. And this, we know, will never be the case.